Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What Not to Say

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week.  I understand that most people won’t post about it or share advocacy pictures, which is fine.  But if you take anything away from this week, I hope it’s the info I’m about to share.
Dealing with infertility is awful.  It wreaks havoc on your emotions, your body, your relationships, and your bank account.  While there often isn’t a lot that others can do to make it better, there are definitely things people do to make it worse.  Most people don't know what to say, so they wind up saying the wrong thing, which only makes the journey so much harder for their loved ones. Knowing what not to say is half of the battle to providing support.

With help from resolve.org and other bloggers, here are a few things you should never say to a childless couple.

“When are you two going to start having kids?” and EVERY.SINGLE.VARIATION of this question.
This is rage inducing for so many reasons.  Not only have you created this awkward situation of me either 
A. informing you that I am infertile and watching you squirm as you now don’t know what to say 
B. Informing you that this is a highly inappropriate question and risk offending you 
or C. Me simply smiling and saying ‘I'm not sure’ while later silently kicking myself about how I could have used it as a learning experience for someone who didn’t know any better. 
I have no clue when we’re going to have kids.  If it was up to me, it would have started 3 years ago. We’ve paid highly qualified doctors thousands of dollars to help us answer that question and still no luck.  Not to mention the couples that don’t want kids and now they’re left with trying to decide how to answer so you don’t judge them.
I understand this question is usually asked with the best of intentions but just don’t ask this question. EVER.

Don't Tell Them to Relax
Couples who are able to conceive after a few months of "relaxing" are not infertile. By definition, a couple is not diagnosed as "infertile" until they have tried unsuccessfully to become pregnant for a full year. In fact, most infertility specialists will not treat a couple for infertility until they have tried to become pregnant for a year. This year weeds out the people who aren't infertile but truly just need to "relax." Those that remain are truly infertile.
Comments such as "just relax" or "try going on vacation" create even more stress for the infertile couple, particularly the woman. The woman feels like she is doing something wrong when, in fact, there is a good chance that there is a physical problem preventing her from becoming pregnant.
Infertility is a diagnosable medical problem that must be treated by a doctor, and even with treatment, many couples will NEVER successfully conceive a child. Would you tell someone with cancer to ‘just relax’ and they’ll be cured?

Don’t complain to me about your pregnancy.
I get it.  You’re nauseous.  Your ankles are swollen, your back hurts, and you’re tired all the time.  But to someone who wants to be pregnant and have a child more than anything in the entire world, she would gladly welcome those symptoms.  You’re entitled to complain, pregnancy is hard, just don’t do it to anyone that is struggling to conceive.

Everything Happens for a Reason
I agree with this statement…to an extent.  Tell me what the reason is that I have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for the CHANCE of starting a family while the 16 year-old down the street has sex for the first time and winds up pregnant.  Or the drug-addict who has no business procreating yet they keep popping out one after another that they don’t or can’t care for.  Or the reason that so many one-night-stands result in unwanted children but my husband and I have tried relentlessly for three years and nothing.  Tell me the reason my body is broken but yours is fine.
So while you may believe “everything happens for a reason”, it is not a helpful phrase to use when it comes to infertility.  We want you to be angry with us and to agree about how unfair this is.

Why Don’t You Just Adopt?
There is nothing ‘just’ about adoption.  Yes, it’s a great way for infertile people to become parents, but it’s not for everyone.  There is a grieving process that you must go through, grieving the loss of the baby with Daddy’s eyes and Mommy’s nose.  You must decide if you can love a “stranger’s baby”.  You must decide how or if you can come up with the large amount of money most adoptions cost.  You have to answer questions about what race you’re willing to accept or what medical problems you will be able to handle, things you would never have had to consider if you conceived on your own.
And if we do start talking about adoption? Don’t suggest that we foster, instead, because it’s free and there are so many unwanted children. Fostering is completely different than adoption, which is completely different than pregnancy. All are wonderful, but different. Remember that.

Trying to protect my feelings when it comes to your pregnancy.
I completely understand your thinking on this one of trying to protect me, but there are a few things that all women suffering from infertility want you to understand.  When you keep the announcement of your pregnancy from me, you’re excluding me because of this thing I can’t control.  You’ve automatically put me in one more club that I don’t want to be apart of all because of my inability to have a baby, and I didn’t even have a say in it.  If we’re good enough friends that I cross your mind not to tell, we’re probably good enough friends that you can tell me 1:1 or shoot me a quick text or Facebook message to tell me that you’re pregnant, you wanted me to know, and you understand if your news causes me mixed emotions.  I promise it’s completely possible to be extremely excited for someone else while being extremely sad for yourself.  You may not get that, but anyone who has struggled with infertility knows that’s a very real and common occurrence. 

A few extras…
Why don’t you try IVF?
Is it him or you?
Maybe it’s not meant to be.
It could be worse.
I know a friend who adopted, and then got pregnant!  Maybe that’s all it takes!
I know how you feel!  We tried for 4 (5, 6, 7…) months to get pregnant!
You can have my kids if you want!
You’ll understand when you’re a mom.
It’ll happen once you stop trying.
Enjoy this extra time you have for traveling, your career, etc.
Have you tried ‘this vitamin’, ‘eating this’, ‘this procedure’?

So what do you say?
-Let them know that you care.
-Do your research. Read up about infertility so you don’t stick your foot in your mouth.
-Ask them what they need.
-Support their decision to stop treatment. No couple can endure infertility treatments forever. At some point, they will stop. This is an agonizing decision to make, and it involves even more grief. 
-Remember them on Mother's and Father’s Day. With all of the activity on Mother's Day and Father’s Day, people tend to forget about those who cannot become mothers and fathers. Remember your infertile friends on these days; they will appreciate knowing that you haven't forgotten them.
-Support us but don’t offer advice unless you've been there. We've heard it all and already tried most of it.

We understand that 99% of the time, those questions are asked with the best of intentions, not meaning to cause harm.  But they do.  And the only way we can eliminate the unnecessary pain is by starting the conversation and bringing the topic of infertility out into the open.  It shouldn’t be something that’s hidden away or anything to feel shameful about.  Check out infertilityawareness.org or resolve.org for more info on how to handle infertility.  The good ol' Google machine can be very helpful as well...

Thursday, March 9, 2017


I don’t even know how to explain what I’ve been feeling the past 24 hours.  I feel like my emotions have taken me on a rickety old roller coaster ride.  The kind that should be shut down and demolished because it’s broken and has thrown someone off.  I feel like that someone.

Rewind a few months. December.  We had just learned that our first, last, and only round of IVF had failed.  We met with our doctor, Dr. C, after the new year to follow-up about what may have gone wrong and what to do next. 

Dr. C is amazing.  He’s funny and kind and endearing and always makes you feel comfortable even though you’re often in very uncomfortable situations.  He sat down across the table and looked at me.  Looked into me is probably more like it.  He asked me, “Would you go through this again?”.  That was a loaded question.  There was a lot of money, and doctor visits, and hours in the car, and blood draws, and shots, and hospital stays, and pain, and procedures, and heartbreak, so much heartbreak, behind that question.  But I answered “Yes”.  Of course I would go through it all again if it meant finally having our child.

He then told us something I never expected to hear.  “I wouldn’t put you through this again”.  Apparently our numbers were way worse than we had thought.  28 eggs to 11 fertilized was bad and going from 11 embryos to 1 was terrible.  I asked if this is just something that happens or if there was a reason.  He told us with numbers like that and how most of my eggs looked after retrieval that it’s my eggs that are the problem.  He asked if my mother smoked while she was pregnant with me.  I thought that was an odd question.  I told him that I’m adopted, but I remembered reading in my adoption paperwork that my birthmom smoked during her first two trimesters.  He said mothers smoking during pregnancy has been suspected to be linked to poor egg quality in their baby girls.  This whole process had been doomed from the start but there was no way of knowing that until we went through it.

I slowly started to feel my dream slipping away.  He proceeded to tell us that he feels our next best option would be an egg donor.  There is no reason to believe that I can’t get pregnant, it’s just that my eggs will never get us there.  So it would be someone else’s egg and Joe’s sperm but I would carry the child.  Joe’s biological child but not mine.

The more I think about that, the more I think I would feel like ‘the other woman’.  Which I know isn’t true, but somewhere deep down I worry that it would bother me knowing that our child is part their father but not part me…that I would feel left out.  Infertility stirs up so many thoughts and emotions that you never knew existed inside of you and often times they don’t make a bit of sense.  I think in order for me to ever be 100% ok with an egg donor, I will need to go through the entire grieving process.  Grieving for the children that have my eyes and Joe’s curly hair, equal parts of both of us, that will never exist.  It can be a hard thing to change your mindset from something you just always assumed would be.

I’ve had people suggest surrogacy.  This isn’t an option because it’s my eggs that are the problem, not my uterus.  I wouldn’t have an embryo for you to carry.
I’ve had women offer to donate their eggs.  This is so incredibly selfless, and I’m so grateful to those that have offered, but I don’t think I could do that.  For me personally, it brings up those same feelings of being the ‘other woman’.  That the child would be my husband’s and my friend’s love child or something weird like that.  The thoughts are irrational and ridiculous…I know this, but that doesn’t stop them from creeping into the corners of my mind.

So what’s next for us?  We haven’t come to a final decision but some sort of adoption will be our next step most likely- embryo adoption or infant adoption.  Couples that go through IVF successfully have the option to donate any embryos they won’t carry themselves instead of having them destroyed.  Couples that are in our situation can then adopt those embryos to be carried by the adoptive mother or a surrogate.  There is roughly a 2 year waiting list for embryo adoption through our clinic, not to mention the large price tag.  Infant adoption through an agency also carries a hefty price tag of just under $20,000 and a multiple year waiting list.  Both of these options come with mounds of paper work, background checks, and home studies so someone can decide if we would be good parents…don’t even get me started on how I feel about all of that malarkey.

I had been handling all of these new decisions pretty well for the past couple months…until last night.  I was scrolling through Facebook and I came across a friend’s pregnancy announcement.  Pregnancy announcements always sting a little but I’ve learned to weather them pretty well.  It’s taken me a long time to even be able to click ‘like’ on those posts, but I ‘liked’ this announcement and kept scrolling.  Another friend’s pregnancy announcement. Wow, two in one night, that hasn’t happened in a long time.  The sting turned into more of a burn but I moved on.  There it was, a third announcement.  I felt like life was playing a cruel joke on me and the burn became a searing pain that was slowly but surely ripping open all of the wounds that I’d been so carefully stitching up the past few months.  I made a post on Instagram with the hashtag of #InfertilitySucks and I fought back tears. And then my phone beeped.  A Facebook message.  It was from a friend who has been struggling with infertility as well.  She wanted to share with me a Facebook post she has been working on before it went live.  The post talked about how they had been doctoring and struggling with infertility and how it’s a very real and scary thing for so many couples.  And then, right there at the end, there it was.  Their pregnancy announcement.  Number 4 of the evening.

I am so happy for them.  I know all too well the pain, and the money, and the fight that has gone into bringing that little one into the world. Many times people avoid telling those struggling with infertility the exciting news that they’re expecting because they don’t want to hurt your feelings.  You start to feel like you’re being shut out of people’s lives because of this thing you have no control over.  It’s one more club you’re not allowed in.  Which is why I’m so thankful she felt comfortable enough to tell me.  I wish nothing but happiness for her, she deserves it more than most.

The conversation ended and I couldn’t hold it in anymore.  The last stitch broke and my heart completely ripped apart.  I cried uncontrollably as the emotions washed over me for the first time in months.  All that ran through my mind was “WHY?!?” over and over and over.  I texted to see if my mom was still awake and she gave me a call.  My parents walked this same road 30 years ago, with Dr. C actually, so I knew she would know exactly how I was feeling.  I was on the phone with her for 45 minutes as she listened to me cry the same tears she cried many years ago.  She spoke wise words that only a mother can, I calmed down, and we said goodnight.

Today is rough.  I had to drag myself out of bed.  I want to curl up in a ball on the couch but that can’t happen.  So I’ll take today to be sad and then tomorrow start re-stitching those old wounds.  I know those won’t be the last tears I cry over our situation, but I hope that the time between them grows larger and the wounds grow smaller.  We don’t know what our future holds, but He does.  In a world of so many uncertainties, that is the one thing I know for sure.

Your prayers are still coveted and your friendships still needed.  Thank you for walking this journey alongside us as we still try to #BringHomeBirdie.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Hope and Heartbreak

I've wanted to pour my heart out on paper for what feels like an eternity, but I didn't have slightest idea where to start.  How does one go about putting into words their hopes and dreams, excitement, anxiousness, happiness?  And how do you then give justice to the immensity of your heartbreak and truly portray what it's like to be emotionally chewed up and spit out?  I don't think it's possible.  But I can try.

The days leading up to transfer on December 20th were filled with many emotions.  It's an odd feeling knowing there is a life you and your spouse have created waiting for you, frozen, in a lab someplace.  125 cells that you hope with all your heart will grow into the cutest baby with mom's eyes and dad's curly hair.
When transfer day came we both were excited but calm.  It wasn't until we were finishing up breakfast at a local diner and left for the clinic that it hit me.  I became increasingly nervous as we drove the short distance to our clinic.  You are deliberately about to go do something that will change your lives forever...no matter what the outcome.  Thank God the clinic has you take a Valium.  They say it's to relax you so you don't think about the full bladder you have for the procedure.  I think it has everything to do with the fact that a team of eight+ doctors and nurses and embryologists are about to shoot this little life back into you that you've spent the last four months of your life painstakingly creating and then hoping it wasn't all for nothing...how are you 'not supposed to worry about it'??

Transfer went perfectly is what we were told.  The embryo was hatching nicely, it looked great and had a very good grade.  Embryos are graded for their quality and ours was practically an A+.  There wasn't any physical reason that this shouldn't work.  I had to lie down in the procedure room for a bit before we were allowed to leave.  We went home and I was on bedrest for the next few days.  My doctors wanted my body to not worry about anything other than helping the embryo stick.

I was so thankful that this all happened right before Christmas.  We obviously had a decent break from school but the excitement and activities that come along with Christmas kept my mind occupied, for the most part, for the nine day waiting period.  We were to be back at the clinic on the 29th for our beta blood test to determine if we were finally pregnant.  I broke down the day before my blood test and took a home pregnancy test.  If you've gone through infertility you know that you examine those tests every which way possible, holding them right up to the light, using your phone's flashlight, taking a picture and flipping it to negative to see if you see a difference...it's crazy, I'm well aware.  I didn't have to do any of that with this test.  It was so completely negative the blankness was almost blinding.

I had done enough 'research' on Google to know that it wasn't unheard of for women to get a negative HPT (home pregnancy test) but then a positive beta blood test.  I had a mini breakdown.  There should have been well over enough HCG in my system by now to register a positive on that stupid stick.  But I still held out hope that I was going to be the exception, not the rule.  I prayed there was still a chance that my blood test would come back positive tomorrow.

We went into the clinic the next morning, had my blood drawn, and the IVF nurse told me that they consider anything over 5 (HCG level) as positive.  If you know anything about HPTs you know that 5 is an awfully low number for those to even be able to detect.  My hope was boosted a little more.  I boldly prayed for what I wanted.  I begged God to let that test come back positive as I know so many friends and family had prayed for as well.

The nurse told me that the test results would show up in my online chart that afternoon before a doctor would have a chance to call me.  We went to lunch, ran some errands, and headed off to Menards while I neurotically checked my phone for the email from the clinic telling me a new test result was waiting. It finally came.  Around 2 PM that afternoon my phone dinged with THE email.  I was going to be patient and wait until we were home or alone or at least not in the sink aisle of Menards to open up my chart and look.  I guess I had used up all my patience the last four months and I couldn't wait any longer.  I logged in and opened up the test result.

HCG level: <1

Less than 1.  The embryo had never stuck.  My body had completely rejected it.

I showed Joe.  "See, I told you it didn't work" I told him just as I had after yesterday's HPT.  We stood there in the sink aisle of Menards as I tried my hardest not to lose it.  I tried to feel nothing, to shut off my emotions and finish picking out the stupid faucet for the stupid sink for the stupid bathroom we were remodeling.

To be honest, I don't really remember much of the rest of that day or the day that followed.  I remember driving my own car home and having a very loud and long chat with God.  I remember waking up the next morning and thinking I need to say something about this on Facebook.  A lot of people have been following and supporting us through this.  If I was them, I'd want to know. 
Plus I knew if we didn't let people know, we would be fielding questions in the next few days of "So!! Are you pregnant?!" and I knew I didn't want to rip off the bandaid each time someone asked.
I remember getting texts, and messages, and phone calls from people who had seen my post about our news, and I ignored most of them.  I wasn't ready to talk to anyone.  I wasn't ready to respond to the barrage of "I'm so sorry", "There is a plan", "Everything happens for a reason", "Have you thought about adoption?" and every other ridiculous thing people were saying.  That could be another LONG post all on its own...and it most likely will be.  *Please understand that we do really appreciate the kind words and sentiments that you all offered.  It's just that in the moment, grief and anger make you think and feel so many different things.*

The heartbreak, the anger, the pain, being so confused and at a loss at what to do next are still very real a week and a half later.  It hits at random times and I find myself fighting back tears like I'm back in that aisle of Menards all over again.  The feeling of "WHY?!" often brings me to my knees in tears and my arms ache from their emptiness. I'm tired of being strong, I'm tired of waiting, I'm tired of fighting back the feelings that we have been forgotten.

Infertility has got to be one of the most unfair lots in life and I truly wouldn't wish it upon anyone.  But through it all I'm thankful for the people who reached out, some we knew and many we didn't, with kind words, and prayers, and "Hey, we're thinking about you!". I'm thankful for my husband, a man who doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve, but has somehow spoken the right words when I've needed them.  I know this has caused his heart to hurt, but he seems to be weathering it all better than I.  I'm so thankful for his strength when I've had none.

We aren't completely sure what our next step will be.  Yes, we have thought about all of our options.  Anyone who has gone through infertility knows every option and I promise there isn't anything you could suggest that we haven't already thought of.  I say this as lovingly as I possibly can...if you haven't gone down the ugly path of infertility yourself, I would discourage you from trying to give what you think is advice to those who are in the depths of it.  We don't want advice, we don't need your ideas or suggestions, we just really need your love.  And maybe a good hug.

We are coping and life goes on...it has to.  We have a follow-up appointment with our doctors on Friday to discuss what may have gone wrong and where we should go from here.  It's been hard but we have truly enjoyed bringing you all along on this journey.  We'd love to have you keep going with us as we continue to try and #BringHomeBirdie.